Stanford University, Collaborative Haptics and Robotics in Medicine Lab, Fall 2018 - present
Soft continuum manipulators provide a safe alternative to traditional rigid manipulators, because their bodies can absorb and distribute contact forces. Soft manipulators have near infinite potential degrees of freedom, but a limited number of control inputs. This underactuation means soft continuum manipulators often lack either the controllability or the dexterity to achieve desired tasks. In this work, we present an extension of McKibben actuators, which have well-known models, that increases the controllable degrees of freedom using active reconfiguration of the constraining fibers. These Active Fiber Reinforced Elastomeric Enclosures (AFREEs) preform some combination of length change and twisting, depending on the fiber configuration. Experimental results shows that by changing the fiber angles within a range of -30 to 30 degrees and actuating the resulting configuration between 10.3 kPa and 24.1 kPa, we can achieve twists between ± 60 degrees and displacements between -2 and 4 mm. By additionally controlling the fiber lengths and pressure, we can modify the AFREE kinematics further, creating dynamic behaviors and trajectories of actuation. The presented actuator creates the possibility to reconfigure actuator kinematics to meet desired soft robot motions.
*Best Paper Finalist, 2020 IEEE International Conference on Soft Robotics